Filling Your Empty Nest
Try on New Hats
Aside from the emotional surge you may feel during the first 30 days of an empty nest, you may also question your identity. A change in role can be especially challenging for full-time mothers who now wonder, “If I am not a mom, then who am I?”
Take some time to explore how your role will change now that the kids are gone. You don’t need to attend to their every need anymore, so how often will you be in touch? How will you advise them on major life decisions? Think about how your parenting will change now that your children are adults.
Some parents may be thrilled to be on their own again. Patty says that when her boys left home, she got her identity back. “I wasn’t Mike’s mom or John’s mom,” she recalls. “I was Patty. It felt wonderful.”
This may also be a time of examination when it comes to your career. Recent research from Cornell University shows that a third of all baby boomers (the generation currently most likely to experience empty nest syndrome) are planning a second career, and many of them are likely to do it once the kids have grown.
Career evaluations may be quite different for moms and dads who are dealing with an empty nest. Fathers are usually at the peak of their careers, beginning to focus more on home life and retirement. Mothers who were generally more responsible for the kids now become more expansive, wanting to go back to school for degrees, developing careers or starting their own businesses.
“Women tend to have this late-in-life energy,” says Burghardt, “so looking at roles can be very freeing.” She suggests sitting down with your partner or spouse—possibly with a glass of wine in hand—and toasting your successful parenting while discussing new career opportunities.
If you’re not prepared to make a career or job change at this point, you may benefit from focusing on your current job. Sal and his wife, Deb, were able to throw themselves into their land surveying business once their kids moved out, which strengthened their marriage. “I am closer to my wife than ever,” says Sal. “Our world doesn’t revolve around the kids anymore.”
Karen was also able to continue her work as an editor when her kids left home, which kept her occupied and distracted. “I had mothers come up to me and tell me how lucky I was to have the magazine because it gave me a structure,” she says. “I [already] had an identity outside the kids.”
If your children have just recently left the house, Disbennett-Lee advises against jumping into anything too quickly. “Don’t rush into anything, join something or sign up for a long-term commitment,” she says. “The first month is a great time to be in the silence, go within and see what it is you would really like to do now that you have the opportunity.”